- Walter Novak
- Timothy Sainte-Hilaire finally realized that Grandma's gaming habit wasn't exactly normal.
Grandma is slaying zombies with a fairway wood when a reporter stops by the house.
It's Saturday afternoon. Grandma doesn't usually go about her killing until after supper. But the grandkids are out shopping, so she's stealing some time in her favorite recliner, whacking the shit out of those pesky faceless bastards.
She's used to reporters coming by. It took a while, but she's come to understand that a 70-year-old nicknamed Old Grandma Hardcore -- who plays 10 hours of videogames a day and does game reviews for MTV -- is, in fact, newsworthy. She's come to understand that reporters and producers need money quotes, and that her spirited language -- "Game on, fuckers" is a common declaration -- pretty much qualifies, even if it gets bleeped. Yes, Grandma gets it: She is the modern "human interest" story.
Of course, there's nothing really new about it. She's been playing forever. Thirty years ago, when she was still a machinist for Black and Decker, she was pumping coins into the Pong machine between frames at the bowling alley.
As she moved around Portage County with her daughter and grandkids, she picked up every new console that came out. At Christmas, pleasing Grandma was a cinch: Just wrap up the latest role-playing or platform game, and she'd be smiling, playing, and cussing all the way through New Year's.
On this afternoon in Mantua, Grandma leans into her Xbox 360 controller, trying as diplomatically as possible to reason with the zombies of Dead Rising, urging them to "stay out of the flower beds!" But they defy her orders, so she beats the shit out of them with the fairway wood. "Leave me alone, you fuckers!" she hollers.
The sight of a geriatric videogame addict assailing foes with strings of expletives has left reporters scribbling and producers salivating since the summer of 2005. That's when grandson Timothy realized that Grandma's gaming, as normal as it was to him, wasn't exactly standard behavior. So Timothy did what all guys who live in their mom's basement do: He started a blog. "I am the perfect personification of a nerd," he says.
He didn't want to use Grandma's real name -- Barbara Sainte-Hilaire -- so he came up with some eye-catching irony: Old Grandma Hardcore. His website, oghc.blogspot.com, chronicled Grandma's tastes and skills, the games she kicked ass at -- the Final Fantasy series, Resident Evil 4, and others -- and which ones she sucked at, like Halo. "I don't wanna go play Halo, 'cause I get my ass kicked," Grandma explains. "My six-year-old grandson can kick my butt."
People began stumbling onto the site, sometimes for all the wrong reasons. To this day, a sliver of the traffic comes from people who have Googled "I love fucking Grandma," "Grandmother and grandson fucking," or something equally weird. But they were there, reading Timothy's stuff. So he kept writing.
Soon they started e-mailing from as far as Australia: Is this shit real? This created a dilemma. Timothy wanted to photograph Grandma, to prove that this shit was, indeed, real. But he hadn't told Grandma about the blog and thought she might be pissed. "I didn't want to take pictures without her permission," he recalls. "That's really, really fucking creepy, dude."
Grandma, predictably, didn't see why anyone wanted to read about her. Nevertheless, she told Timothy to fire away. She wanted to encourage him, even if it meant having strangers refer to her as Old Grandma Hardcore. Timothy, after all, is among her best friends. "Him and I are a pair," she says.
With Grandma's existence confirmed, the site started showing up on link sites and other blogs, and was getting thousands of hits a month. Then, in August of 2005, MTV called. Alex Porter, a senior editor for MTV Digital, realized that Old Grandma Hardcore was pure internet and television gold.
As MTV worked to get Grandma on its airwaves, other producers were getting wind of her. An old woman playing Xbox?! I need her on this show! CBS's Evening News showed up and put Grandma in its slot for Strange Tales From Those Weirdos in the Middle States. NPR called last winter. So did The Washington Post, the Associated Press, and Reuters.
In January, Porter flew Grandma and Timothy to New York. MTV found some space for her on the G-Hole, a gaming show on MTV.com and MTV 2. They gave her a new Xbox and asked her to review some games, making sure she dropped the occasional F-bomb.
Not long after, ESPN The Magazine called -- and flew Grandma and Timothy back to New York for a photo shoot. When the magazine hit newsstands, there was Grandma, posing in the same spread as Rudy Gay, a 19-year-old guard from UConn. It was the magazine's annual "Next" issue, featuring all the Next Big Things.
Last spring, Grandma and Tim headed to Los Angeles. The first trip was for a Sony press junket. Two months later, they were back in L.A. for E3, a huge gaming expo. MTV shot footage of her rolling around in her scooter, shouting, "Get out of my way, fuckers!"
They also showed her the newest gaming technology, including PlayStation 3, which won't come out until November. Shopping for Grandma has suddenly become an arduous task: Game manufacturers and MTV send her game after game, and she expects to be playing PS3 before it even hits shelves.
Timothy makes every trip. MTV made him a production assistant and pays him a few bucks a day to carry cables and do other menial tasks. G4, a cable gaming network, wanted to fly Grandma to L.A. alone, but she made herself damn clear: "Both of us or none of us."
There's no word on where they're going next or which media outlet will soon find its way to Mantua. "People were saying this was 15 minutes," Timothy says. "That 15 minutes has dragged on for over a year. I don't want to fuck it up. I want to make sure I do right by Grandma."
To which Grandma, still in her recliner, says: "Naaaaaaa-ha-ha-ha!" Four thousand of those fuckers she's whacked, and it's not even five o'clock.